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If the strong force wins out, the colliding nuclei bind together, or fuse, to form a heavier nucleus. One of its main sources of power is a series of fusion reactions and beta decay processes that transform hydrogen into helium.

Since the early 1900s, when the existence of isotopes was first realised, nuclear physicists and chemists have been seeking out ways to study how isotopes can be formed, how they decay, and how we might use them.

The electrons, which are much lighter than protons or neutrons, carry the same magnitude of charge as a proton but with the opposite sign, meaning that each atom that has equal numbers of protons and electrons is electrically neutral.

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To understand what isotopes are and how we can use them, we need to take a closer look at the interior of an atom.

An atom is composed of an incredibly dense core (called a nucleus) of protons and neutrons, surrounded by a diffuse cloud of electrons.

Carbon dating, for example, makes use of the long-lived isotope carbon-14 to determine how old objects are.

Under normal circumstances, carbon-14 is produced in our atmosphere via cosmic ray reactions with nitrogen-14.

This means that all three isotopes have different atomic masses (carbon-14 being the heaviest), but share the same atomic number (Z=6).

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